It's how we do the little things - shift an edit 2 frames, finesse an audio transition, or kern our type - that takes us beyond being professional and into "craftsman" status. To become a craftsman requires persistence over time, inquisitiveness, and a healthy dollop of passion.

If you need a little inspiration this (Friday) morning - maybe you can feed off the passion on a posting about... Copperplate Gothic. Yes, that's right - a font:

"Copperplate Gothic’s default ubiquity and, by consequence, broad misuse, has procured it a place among The Designers’ Holy Hatred Font pantheon reigned by Papyrus and Comic Sans — and while there is still no campaign to ban Copperplate Gothic, it does have its detractors. Yet, to this more prevalent Mr. Hyde side of Copperplate Gothic, there is a valiant Dr. Jekyll ready to shine from its own evil cast."

Passion can be infectious... so if you need to catch the flu this morning (as I did), it's a fun read, if maybe a little cerebral.

HT: Daring Fireball

- pi

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Thoughts On The Tekserve Red Event

I attended the "Red Event" last night at Tekserve.

It was a generally uncomfortable event in which 150 people were jammed onto their showroom floor with inadequate air conditioning (Tekserve is always on uncomfortable place to shop) and stood for an hour. It seemed most people watched the event from screens throughout the store and the tallest people in the room had been given priority access to the first row, blocking everyone's line-of-sight... chairs would have been better.

I'm not going to go into Red workflow specifics because so few people have access to the Red camera. The people that are now shooting Red have workflows that are far beyond the scope of the clients I choose to serve. In a few more months we'll be able to test and refine a Red workflow "for the rest of us". But Red is an amazing technology and it was great to see the owners of Red #6 & #7 presenting to the NYC community.

Here are some of my impressions:
  • Red should be hugely desirable to the Fini client base. It's affordable, accessible, scalable, and future-proof. It's a disruptive technology an order of magnitude larger than Final Cut Pro was disruptive. It will put a lot of people out of work... but give opportunity to far more people.
  • Red is a complex workflow - largely because of its scalability. There will be several unique and distinct workflow's for different deliveries. Some purists will rail against the DV-crowd taking up this camera... they will argue that everyone should be delivering 4K all the time... they will be wrong. But the clients they serve will also feel the same way, so there's no need to worry that the Red camera will bring us all together in a Kumbaya / We Are The World oneness.
  • The Red team isn't telling how many cameras are reserved, only that the number is in the thousands (which I take to mean more than two thousand). Compare that to the number of Vipers and Dalsa's out in the field shooting today - that's as if Apple would have sold 10 million iPhones by November, it's a crazy-big number.

Also showing at Tekserve last night was Scratch - a high-end software-based color correction app. I was intrigued by its power, flexibility, and depth. And unlike Color, it can read the RedCode directly - no need to transcode to some intermediate codec like ProRes. But at $50k a seat - it's not for my clients. It's priced for facilities running the Autodesk products (Flame / Smoke). In fact, the GUI looks like Autodesk funded the project. It's a total and complete Flame rip-off. There are some nice breakaway 'widgets' for moving between modalities, but it's an interface partly designed to make high-paying clients comfortable that their money is going toward hefty lease payments.

I was disappointed that the Scratch guys never got around to showing us Red Alert (I think that's the name of the app), which is currently shipping with Red. It's designed for evaluating and modifying images from the camera, both in the field and in post. Considering this was a Red event, I was a bit peeved that Assimilate turned the demo room into a Scratch event. Poor showing, boys.

The Big Takeaway

The presenter at the event (one of the owners of Off Hollywood Studios) made a point that I think is relevant to anyone creating pictures. He mentioned how the images coming off the sensor don't look all that pretty. He said the goal with a camera like Red is concentrate on latitude - don't clip highlights or shadows. Pretty is done in post, capturing as much dynamic range should be the objective. I think he's dead-on correct. But I don't think this is only true for the Red camera. In fact, this is especially true for DV or DV50 shooters.

Yes, you want good lighting and a talented DP is as critical as ever. And a talented DP will preserve as much detail in the image as possible.

Image Detail = Production Value

One ingredient to make your video look like not-video is to preserve your highlights and and don't let your shadows fall into total blackness.

UPDATE - Two quick notes:
  1. When I say the Scratch GUI looks like a Flame rip-off, I don't mean that disparagingly... just that, to me, it looks like Flame. It doesn't seem a friendly or approachable interface but rather is very deep and filled with identical pop-up style gray buttons.
  2. Don't confuse Image Detail with the "detail enhancement" option on many cameras. That option is as bad as turning on gain and should be avoided unless you're looking for a "video" look. And even then, that kind of sharpness can be added in post - so save it for post...

- pi
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How To Prep A FCP Sequence For Finishing @ Fini

Our clients generally bring their footage to us in one of two ways:

  1. They bring their camera originals which we redigitize.
  2. They bring their footage (usually DV) on a firewire drive and we begin finishing directly from those files.

Both methods have their challenges. For now, because I've had to write out these instructions to two clients in the past week, let's focus on Method #2. These techy instructions are specifically for shows cut on Final Cut Pro...

The end result: You'll create a new project with a new timeline that's exactly the same as your current timeline - only it points to newly copied media that's been trimmed to only the footage needed to playback your timeline. We'll include 15 frames of handles for each shot, so we can slip and slide 15 frames in either direction - if need be (no edit is ever truly locked).


Because we use Apple's new Color software so heavily in our workflow, some preparation needs to go into this process that can be neatly classified as 'busy work'; all speed changes, time remaps, freeze frames, or jpeg / tiff files in your project must be rendered out and re-edited back into the sequence. Same thing with nested Motion or Livetype projects. On documentaries this is not an insubstantial amount of work. But currently, we have no choice - it's a limitation of the Color software, which is powerful enough to be worth the hassle.

Once that's done take a look at your timeline. When you edit do you "build up" your timeline, saving alternate takes in video tracks below the topmost, visible clip? If so, you need to play the role of a good Sous Chef and reduce your timeline down so it includes only the clips necessary to recreate your timeline. Everything else must go. To avoid confusion in the finishing session I suggest dropping everything down to V1. Then dedicate other tracks to specific elements... V2 for overlapping dissolves or composites, V3 & V4 for titles and graphics, V5 for the letterbox, etc...

Using the Media Manager

Once the timeline has been properly prepared, it's time to copy your footage onto the drive you'll be bringing to the finishing session. Don't do this directly from the Finder. Why? Final Cut Pro doesn't always like its media handled this way. Also, we want to reduce the number and size of files you're copying to the bare minimum. We only want the files referenced from your newly reduced timeline, and we only want 15 frames of 'handles' before and after each clip. To do that, follow these steps...

1. In your current project, in the Browser right-click on the current sequence you want to send to Fini.

2. Select "Media Manager"

3. Here's a screen shot of the settings to use inside the Media Manager:


4. Click on "Browse" under Media Destination. Navigate to the drive you'll bring to the finishing session put the files in a new folder "MEDIA_TO_FINI".

5. Before pressing OK recheck the following: 
  • The green "Modified" bar should be much shorter than the green "Original" bar. If not, something's probably wrong.
  • Be sure you are choosing the "Copy" function - nothing else, or things will go terribly wrong.

6. Click "OK"

7. A dialog will open asking you to name a new project which will reference this material. Give it a meaningful name, save it to the top level of the drive where you're putting the MEDIA_TO_FINI.

8. Let the machine run. Depending on the speed of your processor and how your drives are attached, expect this to take a while and the machine to be unavailable during this process. Maybe even a very long while. On a recent 70 minute doc this step took about 75 minutes, with FCP constantly updating as to what shot was being trimmed and copied.

Check Your Work

9. When finished, close all current projects, then open the newly created project on the drive you'll be bringing.

10. Open the timeline, select a shot in the timeline and press Command-9. Look at the file path for this clip and be sure it's pointing to the hard drive / folder you've set as the copy location. Double-check any speed changes, freeze frames, and graphics - ensuring they're all correct. You'll should watch the whole thing down.

11. You're done.

- pi

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Upcoming Presentations on Color Correction and Color-ing

Interested in learning more about the color correction tools that ship with Final Cut Studio 2?

I'll be teaching and if you live in the NYC area, here are two dates to mark on your calendar...

  • Thursday September 20 - User Group meeing, Apple Store, Soho : I'll be giving a presentation at the Mopictive User Group (formerly the Final Cut Pro User Group, of which I'm the Treasurer) exploring the differences between FCP's built-in 3-Way Color Corrector, the 3rd party color correction plug-in Colorista and Apple's new color correction software Color. At the end of the presentation you should have a good idea of which of these tools best suits your workflow and inclination.
  • Saturday, November 3 - Color Correction Masterclass : I kind'a hate the name of this class, since I don't consider myself a Master - just someone who has taken a keen interest in the topic and pursues it professionally. Anywho - this class is a full day seminar covering the theory behind video-based color correction techniques and then the application of those techniques to Final Cut Studio 2. This seminar is a collaboration between myself, Mopictive, and Manhattan Edit Workshop (which will provide an Apple-Certified instructor to cover material contained in the Apple Pro Series book Advanced Techniques and Color Correction in Final Cut Pro). It's a jam packed day. I last did this class in the Spring and it was pretty well received. This class has a cover charge of $300 with 40% of the proceeds going to the User Group and the remaining split between the facility providing the equipment (every enrollee gets their own workstation) and the instructors. You can sign up over at Manhattan Edit Workshop's website.

- pi

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Red is Not Funny?

No. I'm not talking about the Red One camera... I'm talking about the color red. Specifically, the psychology of the color red.

In a blog post discussing the use of the color red in film titles and posters, makes the point that use of the color Red in movie promotional materials is the color of the doomed comedy. In the comments of that posting two criticisms of his survey of unfunny comedy posters ring true...

  • His survey of movie posters suffer from selection bias.
  • Some funny movies do make garish use of the color Red.
To get by selection bias, I decided to do some quick research myself and went over to Netflix. I have about 350 movies that I've rated over the past several years. I pulled up Comedies and sorted by Star Ratings. Here are the movie posters (from IMDB) from my top eight comedies, in no particular order:

red_is_not_funny copy

The red in Airplane is muted by the liberal use of blue in the background. Thank You For Smoking uses red as irony, both in its structure as a Lucky Strike package and its opposition to the normal red "No Smoking" signs scattered around our public squares. Clearly, red is a minority color amongst my favorite comedies - but it does have its place.

Now let's glance at my 8 worst rated comedies:


Given the low sample size, I'd say unfunny comedies are statistically as likely to use red as funny comedies. Though it might be fair to say funny comedies seem to use red more deliberately.

Red may indeed be unfunny (and you may think I don't have much of a sense of humor) - unfortunately, looking to movie posters doesn't seem to be the best way to confirm that thesis.

- pi

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